This weekly blog series features interviews taking place at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) open mic with me and some of the funniest stand-up comedians in the area, most of whom just happen to be my best friends! Read to learn about your favorite local funny people and about the curious emotional makeup of people who like to go onstage alone every night to get laughed at. Seth Cowles: The Hustler
Seth Cowles is one of the most normal comics I know—well-adjusted, able to hold a conversation about something other than comedy, has a kid, and a good job. Cowles clearly wants to connect with people and make people happy. His lack of pretension, as well as his warmth and accessibility, translate easily onstage. He's one of the major go-to hosts at every major comedy club in Dallas. Cowles has also taken a role in the stand-up community as something of a mentor. When I did my first hosting set, he was the one who prepared me and taught me how to intro, plug the club—basically do anything other than just my set. I sat down with the funny stand-up vet for an extra long interview, not only because he is very interesting and articulate, but also because he speaks honest, if unpopular truths, about what it takes to be a successful comedian in Dallas.
Cowles. When did you start comedy? Twelve years ago. Kind of a weird story. Like most people, I've always loved comedy. I remember in third grade I used to write a lot of knock-knock jokes. My first joke that I wrote was Knock Knock—
Who's there? Red.
Red who? Red pepper. Wasn't that a hot one?
That's solid for a third grade joke! And I haven't really come along since then. So comedy—actually I was writing a book. It was a science fiction book, and I'm not a big science fiction guy, I just thought of this idea. It was about this couple who invented a digital oven that could download food. The size of the file versus the size of the meal and all that computer jargon, and ultimately it came down to a book about right and wrong. This couple could end world hunger or rule the world and control the world's food. So I started writing it, and I would carry a tape recorder to record ideas. And I found that I was mostly finding funny observations within life and recording that and I'd listen to it and be like, "These are just bits. I'll just do comedy."
What's your favorite stand-up story? Probably my most fun comedy story was we were doing an open mic at the West End—Dustin [Ybarra], Anthony Perez, and this girl Laura Cole—and we were just sitting and bullsh*ting as people were walking out of the open mic. They were talking about how they didn't like the open mic. They said, "They weren't real funny." We'd already gone up, and they hadn't seen us, so Dustin stands up and he does about two minutes of material. And they're standing there, and they're laughing. And then he turns around, and says, "Anthony!" Then Anthony gets up and he does it, and it keeps going, and becomes this tag team of comedy, right there on the street, and people start walking up, about 10 or 12 people, watching us. And then we finished, and they applauded, and they said, "Hold on!" and they all pooled money together.
We used to do all sorts of fun sh** like that. Dustin and I invented this thing called ambush comedy where we'd run up to strangers and say, "Hey, my friend wants to tell you a joke," and we'd have to *snaps* go. That evolved into us starting to walk really close to a group and saying a bit really loud so they'd have to hear it. And I came up with the idea where I'd go up to those hansom cabs, those horse drawn carriages, and tell the people jokes and people would have to listen to them.
Was there a better work ethic back then—we're talking like seven or eight years ago I think—in terms of driving? Was it driving your a** off to go to even sh***y mics? Yes. You would just do it because you were so psyched. It was like, "Hey, when are you going on so we can go to the next mic?" It was a lot more fun back then. It might be the same way now for newer people—honeymoon phase. But also I feel like I've been doing this 10-plus years, I don't have to hit six open mics a week.
Would it behoove us younger comics to have that work ethic? Absolutely. Someone told me, starting out it's only three things—writing, stage time, and hustle. A lot of people have two of the three. The hustle is kind of a tricky one. You have to be social, but you also have to schmooze and meet the people that do the booking and hang out on the weekends, go to the Improv or Hyena's on the weekends. I'm not booked, they don't know who the f*** I am. That's a big part of it, and a lot of people say, "Oh, I don't want to do that." Well, you're gonna have to, or it's gonna take you a long f****ng time. Because if you don't write all the time, or get the stage time when you're first starting out, you're going to be kind of lost, and you'll be telling jokes for your friends. It's frustrating, because I see that a lot.
Are you talking about me right now? Let's go off the record. Here's my thing right now—you can get really good at working an open mic room by doing open mics, and then a hosting set is so different. But who are you working? The crowd or the comics?
Both! It has to be smart enough for the comics and accessible enough— For me, the worst sound is just the back of the room laughing. Just the comics laughing. For me, I'll try a joke three times on the same stage, and if it doesn't work, I'll get rid of it.
So if you're still learning how to feel out a room but also test material for specific rooms, what do you do? I mean, say my first show at Hyena's hosting—you don't know. You just kind of hope your material is going to work with the room. But you really don't know. That's where the whole confidence and stage presence and energy comes in. Because they are cold as f***. That's why I talk to so many younger comics who are like, "Hey, I'm hosting." And I say, "Hey, don't just stand there and hold the mic!" I know you think your job is to be funny, but it's not. It's to host the show and get them energized and get them in the mood to laugh. They came to see the headliner. And you can be funny and be a good host—you can work on being a better host, but sometimes, you have to make sacrifices. You can say, hey, I wanna be weird and funny and alt—and hey, that's funny, but is it going to be really funny when I'm hosting? It will be really funny when I'm featuring or headlining, because then they know what to expect from me. But if you're hosting you got to bite that bullet.
Lauren Davis is an improviser and stand-up comedian from Dallas, Texas. Currently a student at the DCH Training Center, she can be seen weekly performing improv with her troupes LYLAS: Girl on Girl Comedy and Please Like Us, as well as doing her stand-up act at clubs around the area.